Modular home four sections (C) Daniel FriedmanA Photo Guide to Modular Home Construction Identification & Inspection

  • MODULAR HOME CONSTRUCTION - CONTENTS: Definition and description of modular construction - how can we identify a factory-built modular home?Definitions and description of modular construction & factory built homes. Examples of how a modular home set crew operates on site. What modular home components are built on site: foundations, garages, decks, etc. What building codes regulate the construction of modular homes. What is the difference between a mobile home, a manufactured home, a modular home, and panelized construction?
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Guide to modular home construction, inspection, troubleshooting, diagnosis, repair: how are modular homes recognized? How is a modular home built, brought to a homesite, and assembled? What portions of a modular home were not made in a factory? What is the quality of modular homes? What are their features, common defects, problems, solutions.

This series of articles describes the history and characteristics of these different types of factory-built structures. Our page top photo shows a four-section modular home after the set-crew has finished placing the four individual sections of the building and the roof has been lifted and enclosed.

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Characteristics of Modular Homes or Modular Housing

Definitions: If you are not sure if your home is a mobile home, trailer, double-wide, caravan, or a modular or panelized-built or factory built home, please
see DEFINITIONS of Mobile Home, Doublewide, Modular, Panelized Construction

Also see Modular Construction at FRAMING METHODS, Age, Types.

Modular home during highway transport (C) Daniel Friedman Modular home during set process (C) Daniel Friedman

Modular homes, earlier in their conception, enjoyed a less than stellar reputation several decades ago, having the reputation of flimsy construction. That is certainly no longer the case.

A modular home is constructed in a factory of one or more sections which are carried to the building site on a trailer (photo above left) and lifted by a crane to be set upon a foundation which has been prepared ahead of time (photo above right).

Modular homes can be quite large, involving four or quite a few more individual sections which are lifted and "set" into place at the site (photo at left)

Contemporary modular construction of homes have these attributes:

Some manufacturers provide custom architectural services and can deliver unique, but factory-built homes in sections. Contemporary modular construction of homes have these attributes:

  • The home is built indoors in a factory under controlled conditions, usually resulting in straight and square construction of walls, ceilings, roofs, and floors.
  • Exterior wall sheathing and roof sheathing are glued as well as nailed to the surfaces of their respective studs or rafters. Interior sub flooring and drywall on walls and ceilings are also glued as well as nailed or screwed to their joists or studs. Some models by some manufacturers also install a double layer of interior drywall. These methods result in a very stiff and strong construction.
  • The home is probably built to meet the building code requirements of all U.S. states, or at least all of the states within a manufacturer's shipping area. You'll find an identifying label for the home with this information, often on a kitchen sink cabinet wall.
  • The home is built strong enough to be lifted at the factory by crane for setting atop a steel trailer for transport, then driven at 65 MPH down a highway, pushed or dragged on its trailer over an often hilly and rough construction site, and lifted again by crane for final "set" atop its foundation.

    Without falling apart. (Try this with a stick-built house.) At the Contempri factory in Pennsylvania on a modular home construction tour about a decade ago, suddenly all of the workers and managers dropped their tools, ran to their cars, and drove madly out of the factory parking lot. We followed to see what was happening.

    One of their modular sections was being towed on U.S. interstate I84 when the trailer disconnected from the towing tractor. The tractor drove ahead. The trailer ran off the highway at 65 MPH. The trailer ran head on into the end of a steel guard rail. The trailer stopped. The modular home section kept going, and impaled itself centered atop the guard rail. When we got to the accident, there was no debris anywhere except where the guardrail had punched out of the rear wall of the modular home section. You could look in windows into the kitchen where the cabinets and appliances were perfectly in place.
  • When the modular home is transported to its site, it is moved by being lifted and set onto an independent steel frame which has its own independent wheels. At the destination the modular home or home section is lifted by crane and set onto an independent foundation, and the steel frame/wheel set returns to the factory for re-use.
  • A modular home is normally set on a foundation which has already been placed at the building site.
  • If the modular home is placed over a basement or if there is to be an attached or detached garage, often that construction is performed by a local building contractor rather than by the modular home manufacturer (sometimes resulting in different quality of workmanship).

How to Identify a Modular or factory built home after construction has been completed

A modular home can be difficult to recognize once its construction has been completed. However these clues will work every time:

Modular home main girder (C) Daniel Friedman Modular home main girder (C) Daniel Friedman

  • In the basement, if the ceiling is not fully enclosed, look at the main girder (photos above). Since most modular homes use at least two long sections that have to be built and transported to the site, there will be at least two completely independent floor framing systems, and at their mating point over the basement center, you'll see an unusually wide built-up girder with (if properly installed) through bolts connecting the two building sections.

    The modular home basement girder members should be touching. IF you see a gap at the center of this structure the building sections may not have been properly set on the foundation. Conversely, if there is to be any gap it should be at the top of the modular sections (visible in the attic, for example) - which assures that the bottom mating members are tight.
  • In the living area, if the building is a two-story unit, as you walk up the stairs from first to second level, notice that there are a few more steps than usual between floors?

    Since each of the four stacked sections in a four-section two-story modular home has been framed with a complete floor, wall, and ceiling structure, the "ceiling" between the first and second floors will be double the normal depth since it is comprised of both the first floor section ceiling framing and the second floor section floor framing. So if 2x10 joists were used, there will be about 20" of ceiling thickness between floor (a great place to run wires and ducts).
Modular home label (C) Daniel Friedman Modular home label (C) Daniel Friedman
  • In the kitchen look under the kitchen sink base cabinet for the modular home manufacturers' labels (these labels may also be placed in a basement or by an electrical panel or at other locations) (Photos above).
  • In the attic is the fail-safe way to always identify a modular-built home unless there is simply no attic access or all surfaces are covered. You'll find one, possibly two or even three features unique to modular home construction:
Modular roof hinged truss or rafter (C) Daniel Friedman Modular roof hinged truss or rafter (C) Daniel Friedman

Hinged modular home roof (C) Daniel Friedman

  • There may be hinged roof rafters (Photo at above left and sketch, below). Many modular homes have roof slopes which would be much too high for the upper roof-bearing sections to travel up the highway.

    Modular home uppermost sections that will include a roof travel with the roof laid flat atop the upper floor module. The roof rafters are hinged, roughly 18-24" from the eaves of the home, and are lifted up at the site, then supported by an attic knee wall. So you'll see two knee walls, one supporting the front and one the back roof section. You may see the hinges on the rafters down near the eaves as well.

    As the dimensions of a sloped roof will cover more area than the flat top section of the building, the roof of a modular or factory built home will often include an additional section that must be set in place, usually near the ridge (photo at above right) - you will see this separately framed structure in the attic of these homes.
  • There will be a mating joint of the front and rear sections of the home visible as two girders in the attic floor, running along the long dimension of the building, usually with a small gap between them, hopefully with insulation or other fire blocking stuffed into the gap.

    The reason for the gap is that properly placed, the sections are set with their bottom girders touching tightly, which may leave the top sections slightly separated at their highest point.

Modular home ridge (C) Daniel Friedman

  • There will also be a mating joint at the ridge where instead of a single ridge board you may see up to four horizontal "ridge boards" - the roof sections need to be framed as stable sections that can be lifted into place. (Photo at left).

Just how Strong are Factory Built Homes? Stronger than Stick Built Wood Framed Houses?

One modular home I inspected had fallen off of its trailer while being lifted by the crane. It rolled over on its face. Like the unit which had impaled itself on the guard rail, there was little damage other than broken windows.

But there was a slight crease in all of the roof shingles about 24" up from the eaves.

The rafter hinges had all been slightly bent when the section toppled. Outside, even on a modular section which has not fallen, you may see this telltale line of slight shingle anomaly, parallel to the eaves.

Factory built homes are constructed so that each section can withstand being lifted onto a trailer, driven up the highway at 65 mph, pushed or pulled over an uneven, often sloped site, lifted into the air by the site crane, and set into place on the foundation.

Often factory built homes combine glue as well as conventional framing fasteners, extensive use of truss joists, girders, and additional framing of individual building sections so that each can be manipulated into place.


Continue reading at PANELIZED CONSTRUCTION or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.

Or see KIT HOMES, Aladdin, Sears, Wards, Others

Suggested citation for this web page

MODULAR HOME CONSTRUCTION at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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